Parking meters that were supposed to pay for a toilet block at a Coromandel holiday hot spot have backfired with tourists spending more than a penny in nearby bushes, business owners say.
Thames-Coromandel District Council introduced parking meters to Hot Water Beach before the summer crowds hit in an attempt to deal with the peak surge of visitors.
However, the move has driven customers away and led to some people defecating at a nearby free car park because they don't know there's a toilet down the road. The parking charges had been supposed to help pay for that toilet, the business people say.
While the council charges for parking close to the beach, visitors are flocking to the first car park they see, known as the Bull Paddock, at the entrance to the settlement.
If drivers do reach the main car park they have the option of paying $2 per hour, $15 per day or turning around and parking in the Bull Paddock, which has 193 spaces for free.
With no toilets and no signs pointing to the toilets at the pay car park, visitors are doing what they have to do when nature calls.
Simon Buchanan, who operates gallery Moko Artspace, said he had had a call from a friend a few weeks ago saying he had caught someone defecating in a bush.
After making inquiries, it appeared the visitor wasn't alone, with others using the nearby swamp as a toilet.
"There was a lot of toilet paper there the other day, some of it was brown," Buchanan said.
Used toilet paper was also visible when the Waikato Times visited.
Buchanan said first-time visitors to the beach were unaware of shops and facilities in the area because the free car park didn't have signs pointing the way.
The council's Mercury Bay area manager, Sam Marshall, said the council planned to install a toilet at the Bull Paddock car park over the next peak summer period. The car park would remain free.
Buchanan said having the free car park away from the businesses had deterred customers. As a result he had lost 50 per cent of his walk-in traffic.
"New people who have never been to Hot Water Beach; they just walk down the track. They don't even come here.
"They should have made [the Bull Paddock] the pay and display and this one the free one."
Hotties cafe and store owner Pauline Walynetz also said parking charges had driven business away, with a distinct drop at the cafe since they were introduced.
"People complain about it," Walynetz said.
"We do send people over to the side [of the road] where it's free.
"They [visitors often] come and ask for change and I don't want to be mean but I have to say no because otherwise I'd be at the bank every day and the banks are half an hour away."
Marshall said the council was working on improved signs, which would be erected shortly, to help direct people to the main village area at Hot Water Beach.
The council was costing construction of a new pedestrian bridge from the free car park, which would encourage people to walk to the village, he said.